Baby will get past fear of strangers


My 5-month-old daughter is very attached to me and her father. She will not let anyone else hold her, even for 30 seconds. What can I do to help her overcome her fear of being with others?

Patti Roberts

Gilroy, Calif.

"Stranger anxiety is actually a positive sign," says Louise J. Kaplan, psychologist and author of "Oneness and Separateness" (Simon & Schuster, $12). "It's a sign the baby has made a very strong attachment and can distinguish between people who are close and people who aren't."

The payoff comes at about 13 months, says Marshall H. Klaus, co-author of "Bonding: Building the Foundations of Secure Attachment and Independence" (Addison Wesley, $22).

By this age, a baby with a secure attachment to her mother is more likely to separate easily and play independently, explains Klaus, an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Parents who have dealt with this problem agree it's best not to thrust the baby into a stranger's lap -- even if that stranger is a loving and eager grandparent.

Instead, hold the baby and sit next to the grandparent, friend or prospective sitter and let the baby get used to the stranger while the two adults talk.

On subsequent visits, the newcomer should begin to help feed and diaper the baby, Kaplan suggests.

Ideally, Klaus says, there should be as many as five to eight visits to make the baby feel comfortable with a new person. This also enables the new adult to learn to pick up on such subtleties as the baby's different cries for being hungry and wet.

It's also important that the mother feel confident in handing her infant to someone else, so she can get a break. "For the emotional well-being of the parent and baby, it's always important to get away a little," Kaplan says.

While Klaus says infants typically begin to protest going to strangers at age 8 months, some babies have stranger anxiety much earlier, especially those cared for solely by the parents.

"Even at seven days of life, babies distinguish the mother from others," Klaus says.

Stranger anxiety may pop up again in a baby's life at around 18 months, but then begins to lessen, Kaplan says.

"Knowing that it's a stage doesn't make it any easier at the time, but it does provide some reassurance," says Jackie Ulmer, a reader from Phoenix, Ariz.

"Love her a lot and relax," says Kathy Schaefer, a mother of two boys from Tacoma, Wash. "It's a very temporary thing."

And finally, Judi Miller of Phoenix, Ariz., and Sallie Roberts of Richmond, Va., suggest paving the way to more familiar faces in a baby's life by joining a mother's group.

Not only will mom enjoy the adult contact, but baby will begin to grow accustomed to being around others while still in the safety of her mother's lap.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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